Warning over 'prolonged recession'
First Minister Peter Robinson has urged all sides not to play politics with the forthcoming £2 billion public spending cuts which he claimed are likely to leave Northern Ireland bogged in recession for a prolonged period.
His Democratic Unionist Party ministers have been told to set aside departmental interests and allow a united powersharing executive to face the tough economic challenges ahead.
The prospect of public expenditure being cut by 20%-25% will have a devastating impact, and according to the DUP leader, the Treasury has identified capital expenditure as the main target for reductions.
The cuts would present the Executive with its biggest policy challenge to date and while it is not responsible for the economic downturn or the spending cuts, it is the Executive's responsibility to tackle the problems they create.
"The main priority must be to keep people in work and put people back to work," Mr Robinson said, adding that, if necessary, budgets should be skewed to maximise the effect of public expenditure in keeping the economy moving forward.
He added: "The public will not quickly forgive ministers who put the interests of their parties or departments before the interests of Northern Ireland as a whole.
"Rather than simply salami slicing budgets, the Executive must agree a strategic approach to the challenges that we are faced with. This will undoubtedly mean difficult and painful decisions.
"Narrow party political considerations will only result in a compromise which serves political interests but not the public interest. With an Assembly election only months away it may be tempting for some to play politics with the difficult decisions that need to be faced in the weeks ahead, but I believe that such cynical opportunism would be transparent to the wider public.
"I have told my party's ministers that their key goal must be to do what is best for Northern Ireland as a whole regardless of whether it is in the narrow interests of their departments.
"Devolution means local people taking decisions which are in the best interests of those who elected us. The Executive has demonstrated it can unite to oppose the threat from dissident republican terrorism; now it must unite to see Northern Ireland through the present economic challenges."